093: Parenting children of non-dominant cultures
This episode is part of a series on understanding the intersection of race, privilege, and parenting. Click here to view all the items in this series.
We’ve done a LOT of episodes specifically for white parents by now:
White privilege in parenting: What it is and what to do about it
Talking with children about race
Teaching children about topics like slavery and the Civil Rights Movement
In this episode we turn the tables: listener Dr. Elisa Celis joins me to interview Dr. Ciara Smalls Glover, whose work focuses on building the cultural strengths of youth of non-dominant cultures and their families. We discuss the ways that culture is transferred to children through parenting, how parents of non-dominant cultures can teach their children about race and racism, and how to balance this with messages of racial pride.
Other topics mentioned in this episode:
Click here to join the Tame Your Triggers workshop (starts July 8, 2019!)
Click here to learn more about the Finding Your Parenting Mojo membership
Click the button on the right with the microphone on it to leave me a voicemail for the 100th episode!>>>
Anderson, R.E., Hussain, S.B., Wilson, M.N., Shaw, D.S., Dishion, T.J., & Williams, J.L. (2015). Pathways to pain: Racial discrimination and relations between parental functioning and child psychosocial well-being. Journal of Back Psychology 41(6), 491-512.
Brody, G.H., Chen, Y-F, Kogan S.M., Murray, V.M., Logan, P., & Luo, Z. (2008). Linking perceived discrimination to longitudinal changes in African American mothers’ parenting practices. Journal of Marriage and Family 70(2), 319-331.
Coard, S.I., Wallace, S.A., Stevenson Jr., H.C., & Brotman, L.M. (2004). Towards culturally relevant preventive interventions: The consideration of racial socialization in parent training with African American families. Journal of Child and Family Studies 13(3), 277-293.
Grills, C., Cooke, D., Douglas, J., Subica, A., Villanueva, S., & Hudson, B. (2016). Culture, racial socialization, and positive African American Youth Development. Journal of Blak Psychology 42(4), 343-373.
Harris-Britt, A., Valrie, C.R., & Kurtz-Costes, B. (2007). Perceived racial discrimination and self-esteem in African American youth: Racial socialization as a protective factor. Journal of Research on Adolescence 1794), 669-682.
Lesane-Brown, C.L., A review of race socialization within Black families. Developmental review 26, 400-426.
Scottham, K.M., & Smalls, C.P. (2009). Unpacking racial socialization: Considering female African American primary caregivers’ racial identity. Journal of Marriage and Family 71(4), 807-818.
Smalls, C. (2009). African American adolescent engagement in the classroom and beyond: The roles of mother’s racial socialization and democratic-involved parenting. Journal of Youth and Adolescence 38(2), 204-213.
Smalls-Glover, C., Williams, J.L., Zuckerman, A., & Thomas, D. (2013). Parental socialization in response to racism: Implications for family health. In M.S. Harris (Ed.), African American perspectives: Family dynamics, health care issues, and the role of ethnic identity. New York, NY: Nova.
Williams, J.L., & Smalls-Glover, C. (2013). Content and attributions of caregiver racial socialization as predictors of African American adolescents’ private racial regard. Journal of Black Psychology 40(1), 69-80.
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I can’t wait to hear from you. Now on to today’s episode. Those of you who have been with the show for a while have probably been following the series of episodes I’ve been doing on the Intersection of Parenting and Race. The majority of these have been focused on whiteness, partly because I’m white and I felt that I needed to explore these issues for myself and partly because I know that a good chunk of my audience is white and needed to explore these issues as well, but also a decent number of review are people of nondominant cultures. And when listener Elisa Celis who’s Mexican reached out and said, “Hey, what about an episode for us and what it means to parent a child of a nondominant culture?” I said, absolutely and you should come and co-interview with me. Elisa is also known as Dr. Elisa Celis, Assistant Professor of Statistics and Data Science at Yale University where she studies the societal and economic implications of things like fairness and diversity and artificial intelligence and machine learning.
Welcome Dr. Celis.
Dr. Celis: 05:39
Thank you. It’s great to be here.
We are here today to talk with Dr. Ciara Smalls Glover, who is Associate Professor of Psychology at Georgia State University. Dr. Glover obtained her Ph.D. from the University of Michigan and she studies the role of identity and parenting on reducing risk for communities of color with particular emphasis on academic and psychosocial outcomes for African American youth. She’s investigating patterns of racial socialization and racial identity as factors that promote positive development and reduce the impact of racial discrimination, which contributes to the development of interventions that build on the cultural strengths of youth and their families. If you’re interested in this topic and would like to continue the conversation with her, you can actually reach her on Twitter @CSmallsGlover. Welcome Dr. Glover.
Dr. Glover: 06:24
Thank you for having me.
All right, so let’s dig right into the meat of this. I’m really curious about parenting styles and what parenting style is appropriate for children of nondominant cultures because it seems to me as though the vast majority of this research is done on white children and for them it’s relatively unequivocal and more democratic style where the parents are setting boundaries, but explain their reasoning to the child and incorporate the child’s views promotes the best child outcomes. But I’ve also seen research showing that a more authoritarian style where the parent kind of lays down the law and doesn’t really explain their reasoning or consider the child’s input actually isn’t terrible for African American children. And Elisa also mentioned having heard parents ask their children (they’re presumably rhetorical question), but how would you know your parents care if they’re not yelling at you? And they see shouting is normal because everyone loses their temper. But timeout, which is recommended by pediatricians is downright cruel. So firstly, I guess if we could start with how the perceptions of the way a person is parented intersect with outcomes?
Dr. Glover: 07:29
Oh, okay. This is a really thoughtful question Jen. So, we’ll back up a bit and talk about the way in which parenting is associated with different outcomes for children of different backgrounds and I think it’s important to preface this conversation by recognizing the heterogeneity within children and even within children of a particular cultural background and it’s in fact one of the reasons why we do find differences in how parenting and parenting styles play out in terms of child outcomes. So you’re right. In terms of the field, a lot of the literature has looked at a thing we call authoritative parenting, which is usually warmth and quality time coupled with a firmness and discipline and understanding that there are going to be rules that have to be respected and authoritarian parenting takes on a little bit of a different approach and that there’s usually a less warmth or fewer perceptions of warmth while still having these firm rules.
Dr. Glover: 08:36
And often these firm rules are a little less open to the input of the child. There are at least two other types of parenting styles that we could add to this conversation as well. One of which is more of a permissive style where there are fewer rules, a lot more openness as essentially the child is determining what the household rules are. And I’m more of a parent-as-friend approach and I can tell you about (those are not the only ones but for the sake of time I’ll just kind of focus on those) where we have seen research looking at outcomes for children of color. We do find differences in these three and we find universally both for children of color and children from dominant backgrounds. The permissive parenting is problematic for children’s adjustment. Children need rituals, they need a bit of routine to develop trust.
Dr. Glover: 09:33
So, in homes where there’s less of that, it makes it harder for the children to establish them. Where there is less consistency then is between the authoritative and the authoritarian. In families where the cultural norm is a firmer rule, a firmer hand, if you will in the home, less openness to hearing what the child’s input is in setting the rules. It’s actually perceived as loving and understanding by the child. So, we don’t see the strength of the same negative outcomes for child adjustment for families of color as we do with majority families with respect to the authoritarian. I’ll give one caveat to that though, and that is the perception really does matter, right? So that in families where the child perceives the stronger hand is being used because the parent loves them or the caregiver loves them and they’re doing it to protect them and keep them safe.
Dr. Glover: 10:37
It offers a safeguard from some of those more negative adjustment outcomes that we see in the literature. But where there’s universal agreement that what the family or caregivers doing is not out of love. We also see consistency and how that’s associated with poor outcomes for children. So, this is very much the case that children understand the cultural norm. Children understand the norm of the family, the individual family, the norm of the individual neighborhood. And that’s important to recognize as we talk about heterogeneity in families that the differences we see in child outcomes related to authoritative and authoritarian parenting are both a byproduct of cultural norms of the individual family as well as the norms that are demanded by the neighborhood and the context that they’re in.
Isn’t that fascinating? I’ve definitely seen that result in studies of Chinese children as well, where a much more sort of strict style is perceived by the child as warm and loving. So that sort of brings me to the next question, which is, is it more important then to parent kind of in a way that’s in line with your culture in a way that’s line with the way that everybody else around you is parenting or more in line with these studies and what’s known in the literature about authoritative parenting and that often having better outcomes?
Dr. Glover: 12:04
Well, this I think is a two-part question and that what we do in families, we often do based on our own experiences in our families. So when we talk about what’s typical and what’s expected, well oftentimes parents are relying on the way that they were raised to inform what they’ll use with their families and using that as experience. Either they appreciated the way that their parents raised them and they’re going to parent in ways that are consistent with that or they’ve reflected on it and decided they want to intentionally change some things. So, I think that’s an important piece to this conversation. The parents are weighing on their own experiences. They’re also weighing on, when we think about parenting and the goal of parenting is raising an independent child, I think many families are thinking about what’s going to help that child get to a level of independence.
Dr. Glover: 13:00
And that’s really motivating a lot of their strategies in raising that child. So that might include things like recognizing. In order for my child to get to a level where they can be independent, I need to keep them safe. I need to keep them out of trouble. That requires that I parent them in such a way that they stay safe and that’s going to be dictated by the neighborhood, by the context that they’re in, whatever the threats are to the safety of that child where that family is living. It would also be determined by what the parent perceives as the responsibilities the child should be able to take on that are of course, developmentally appropriate. And Jen, I know you’ve raised this question earlier as well, inspired by I think what could be perceived as this cultural difference, but are there thoughts that either of you have about the parent that does want to parent more in line with their culture?
Dr. Celis: 14:03
Well, I think, I mean one thing for me and I think for many people we as a family keep moving, right? So kind of the culture that one had growing up either for myself or for my husband is I think for many people quite different than the one you ended up in now. So there’s also a bit of tension between even things that perhaps worked really well for you. They worked really well for you in that context and now you’re not in that context. So there’s a little bit of tension as to, well, did it work because it objectively works or did it work because of the surrounding neighborhood and with all changes now that I’m in this kind of new place with perhaps a different surrounding culture, raising my children here.
Dr. Glover: 14:49
That’s such a great point. It actually reminds me of a few television shows that kind of capitalize on that where you see a family that’s relying on the way they were raised to inform the way they raise their children, but their children are in an entirely different context and that’s a source of humor for these television shows, right?
Ok, what show are you thinking of here?
Dr. Glover: 15:10
Well, I’m thinking of a couple and I don’t know this might take you back but the first example I’m thinking of is old sitcom called the Bernie Mac show. If you know anything about Bernie Mac, he grew up in a very rough side. He’s a comedian, grew up in a very rough side of Chicago, primarily raised by his grandmother who rule with an iron fist, if you will, because the neighborhood dictated that. He brought that parenting style to where the celebrities live in California and just for the sitcom in raising his nieces and nephews who could not be raised by their parent, he raises them with the same authoritarian lens where they’re saying, we want to go out and play with our friends.
Dr. Glover: 15:54
And he’s saying, you can’t. He’s raising them as if they were still living on the south side of Chicago, but they’re not, right? They’re living in this very beautiful home where celebrities live and he’s living the life of a celebrity. Another I think more recent example would be, Black-ish has a little bit of the same theme where the father was raised in a very rough neighborhood and brings that perspective to raising his children who also live in this very lovely suburb in California where the neighborhoods not necessarily demanding that he raised them in the same way and they use it as a source of humor because his wife grew up in a very different context that didn’t have those same demands in terms of safety.
Dr. Glover: 16:39
They get into discussions often about how they’re going to approach different choices with their children because they come at it with different experiences. You talk about this happening in real life because it very much makes a difference and what we think is working and whether we choose to continue to use something or not. I don’t think I mentioned this at the beginning of the broadcast, but I also have a very young child and so this has been a wonderful opportunity for me to both think about my upbringing which wasn’t a very rough neighborhood originally and then moved to a much nicer neighborhood in conjunction with the research that I do and consume. I love reading research on families and strengthening families and then my child’s lived experience where I need to take into account that child’s personality, the context that they’re living in and recognize how different it is from the one that I grew up in and the partner or spouse that I’m raising this child with and their influence and say in the choices that we make as a family. I think all of those really do play a role in a parent’s decision to continue whatever was the norm that they were raised in or to intentionally make some of those changes.
Dr. Celis: 17:56
Yes, definitely. It’s nice to hear you speak of that. I’ve definitely seen a lot of these shows that resonated with me in the past. But I guess even kind of on a practical side, how do you even go about making these choices? Are there some things that are kind of really crucial or what parts do you let go and parts can you let go or is it really so individual the spectrum that you can go along?
Dr. Glover: 18:22
Yeah, that’s a great question. So I’ll answer that thinking about discussions around culture as an example, right? When we think about, I think Jen, one of your questions was about ways of promoting some positive outcomes for children.
Dr. Glover: 18:42
When I have done studies looking at this, what has been evident to me is that the family context in which we deliver messages around culture, particularly some of the harsh realities of interactions is difficult. And so what I have found is that delivering those messages, the messages that are a bit sensitive in nature and talk about unfair treatment, helping the child to be aware of discrimination that they may face, unfair treatment that they may face, that having those delivered in the context of a warm family environment where there is a bit of democracy and the child feels like they can have a say has been associated with the most positive adjustment outcomes for children.
Dr. Glover: 19:33
I’ll tell you a little bit more about that. So, part of this is recognizing that while you are delivering information about the harsh realities that are going to likely be an experience in our world, experiences with racism, experiences with microaggression, unfair treatment, that having the family as a safe secure base can help to offset some of the negativity that comes with a child recognizing that they may have to face these realities. I call it the Claire Huxtable Syndrome. So, if you were ever a fan of the Cosby show then you know that Claire Huxtable was the type of character and mom that definitely had firm rules in her household. There were consequences if you broke those rules. But she was also very quick and eager to spend time with her children. Her children knew that she cared for them and love them. In that context, making them aware of some of the harsh and unfair experiences they would face, acted as a secure base for them, where they could then leave with that information to feel like they weren’t doomed to failure, that they could make it in spite of those obstacles.
Dr. Glover: 20:50
I juxtapose that a bit lovingly with the Samuel Jackson that I knew before the credit card commercials, which you know, Samuel Jackson before the credit card commercials was really ruled with an iron fist. He was stern. It was do it because I say so. If you don’t, when you go out there, the man’s going to keep you down, the system’s going to keep you down. And you can imagine that receiving messages about the harsh realities of racism in that context is going to feel and be internalized a lot differently for a child, right? So then the sense of agency they feel that they can have in changing their world or making it and succeeding in spite of those experiences would be really different. The literature seems to plan out in that way on the work that both that I read and then the work that I do where it’s not a doom to failure kind of thing, but we definitely see, I definitely see the more positive outcomes being associated with families who are delivering those messages in the context of an authoritative or democratic style and delivering those messages balanced with messages that are uplifting about their culture and the achievements of their group. So, I think that balance is also very important to keep.
Dr. Celis: 22:11
Yeah. I think that really kind of centers in the very useful context to me it’s almost putting the center on the relationship and then all of these messages come in through that. If that make sense.
Dr. Glover: 22:25
Yeah. I think we do this to ourselves, we get a lot of messages during the day, but who we attend to, the messages we attend to has a lot to do with who’s delivering them. Right? To the extent that there is a positive relationship quality with the person that’s delivering those messages, the child’s more likely to internalize those messages and receive them and then trust the caregiver and being able to talk about their experiences related to culture and race even when those experiences are not positive.
Dr. Celis: 23:02
Yeah. Yeah. I guess talking a little bit about these messages, I was wondering if you could also expand a bit more on kind of the different kinds of messages that in particular parents of nondominant cultures give their children. I mean there’s of course kind of these verbal explicit messages. There’s also nonverbal messages in terms of modeling, right? Perhaps cooking traditional foods or celebrating cultural holidays or the books that you choose to check out of the library, things like that. So how do all these different messages interact?
Dr. Glover: 23:38
Oh, that’s a great question. There are a number of messages. I’ll say that not all of these messages are unique for families of color. When we think about ethnic racial socialization, which is a term we use in the literature to describe how parents talk about race, ethnicity, and culture, how they communicate into group protocol and prepare their children for mainstream society, it is inclusive of families of a majority background as well. So, some of the messages that we give include messages around cultural socialization. We can also turn this as kind of the pride focused messages and they incorporate much of what you just shared. Their whole emphasis is on making the child aware of the history, the achievement of that cultural, racial or ethnic group, and doing so in ways that can include things like celebrating cultural holidays, eating cultural or ethnic foods, encouraging the child to adopt the family’s native language.
Dr. Glover: 24:46
It can also include things like reading books about one’s cultural history and legacy, the achievement of individuals from that group, movies, magazine subscriptions and many things that could fall into this category. When we look at families of all different ethnic and racial backgrounds, this is the one that we tend to see start the earliest in age. So, when you look at families of very young children, they’re often starting with the cultural socialization or the racial ethnic pride messages. Because these are seemingly the most consistent across any age group. You can share these messages with a child of any age. Another, we call them egalitarian messages and egalitarian messages aim at helping the child be prepared from mainstream society in ways that emphasize individual qualities as most important. So, emphasizing the importance of individual qualities like hard work, responsibility, honesty, these take precedence over emphasizing racial or ethnic group membership.
Dr. Glover: 26:00
So, in many spheres these are your colorblind messages.
Dr. Celis: 26:05
Dr. Glover: 26:06
There are also messages that we deliver around racial barriers or preparation for bias, where the aim is to make the child aware of unfair treatment and racism that they’re going to experience in the outside world. Of the messages that I’ve talked about so far, these are more nuanced in terms of when it’s appropriate to talk about them, their ways to talk about them in any age. But the literature shows that we tend to talk to older children. The research shows that we tend to deliver these messages about preparation for bias with children who are older in age, approaching middle school, adolescence in line with their growing independence. So, it’s not uncommon for families to begin to prepare their driving age child to handle an interaction with an officer if they’re pulled over, if they’re profiled essentially. Some of the messages that we also talk about are self-worth messages that emphasize the child’s value as a person, as an individual, and as a person of color, behavioral messages, which reflect the behaviors parents may engage in to show their connectedness with their cultural groups.
Dr. Glover: 27:35
So, it might be taking your child to an organizational meeting that’s related to your culture, ethnicity or race. It could also include the magazine subscription, the presence of cultural artifacts in the home. There are also negative messages which are far less common in my experience, but do exist where some families talk about negative attributes of their own culture, ethnicity or race.
So, I’m curious about the timing of these messages. I mean, it seems as though the driving one is a bit more kind of an obvious, you want to get out in front of that because you’re not going to be there and your child’s going to be there by themselves and needs to learn how to handle themselves when they’re interacting with someone that might sort of precipitate a negative interaction, but what about the sort of more ongoing low level kinds of interactions that children find themselves in? Is it better to prepare them before these things happen or do you have to talk about them afterwards or both? Is it more effective to do both?
Dr. Glover: 28:36
Yeah. I think the question before that leads into your question is what is a parent consider to be low level? In doing this work, it has been so exciting and such a joy to talk to parents and hear their experiences and hear about all the things they’re doing to raise their children to be successful. I’ll tell you, I’ve encountered families who say, I’ve decided not to talk about race and ethnicity or culture with my child beforehand. I will let them come home. If they come home with an experience then we’ll talk about it. In the spirit of doing that, having your kindergarten come home and say, mommy, so-and-so said the N-word to me today, what does the N-word mean?
Dr. Glover: 29:25
Oh my gosh. Well that’s a conversation no parent looks forward to having with their child. So, there are reasons for why a parent may choose to hold off on some things, but those are often the same reasons that another parent may choose to make their child aware of it so that the child is not feeling flustered or unprepared when the situation happens. For many families, for families that are raising a child of color, there are some clear context where we just don’t want to wait until this happens to prepare them. Those often include things like being profiled or interacting with the police, getting into an altercation or being wrongly accused for something in the school context. I’ve heard a number of parents in my work talk about preparing their child for responding to an incident at school. In those cases, there’s a trend where if the parent sees that it’s an experience unfair treatment from a person in authority, the parent will often tell the child, why don’t you let me handle that? You come to me and talk to me about it. If it is an experience of unfair treatment with a peer, like a classmate, the trend that I’ve seen in one of these latest studies that have done has been for the parent to prepare the child with the necessary skills they need to manage that.
That’s a really helpful distinction I think in terms of giving parents tools that they can use to figure out in their minds, you know, what do I tell the child about which kind of incident, at which point, and I’m sort of riffing on that a little bit. I’m thinking about how do you model sticking up for yourself when you’re sort of confronted by this prejudice in the moment when sometimes maybe you’re just like, ugh, I don’t want to have to do this today. I don’t want to have to spend this energy today. But on the flip side of that, you’re worried that your child is maybe looking at you thinking, oh, that person did something that I believe goes against my parents’ values and they didn’t say anything. What does the child take out of each of that sides of those kinds of experiences?
Dr. Glover: 31:36
That’s a great question. As I think about this question, the age of the child comes back into play for me. Of course, we think about, so at Georgia State I teach Human Development and one of the things that’s fascinating for students to learn about is how cognition changes as we age and the cognitive ability of the aging child. So their ability to deal with the abstract and maybe perceive what you just shared, why didn’t my parent respond to this is going to be a little bit different with age. And I think a parent would respond then based on as the child gets older. I also think it’s important to keep in mind that your ethnic, racial and cultural group is relatively stable. So, I treat this as I would with a number of other sensitive topics. This is something that’s going to play itself out.
Dr. Glover: 32:30
These conversations play themselves out over time. The long list of messages that I described, they don’t all get delivered in the same context. They get delivered over time in a variety of contexts. It’s the interaction of those messages over time in a variety of contexts that we see associated with developmental outcomes for children. So in a very practical message, I would say to a parent, if it’s something that you personally feel is not safe to respond to in the moment or is not worth your personal energy to respond to in the moment, you can always debrief the experience with your child in a private setting later on. Sometimes it’s the modeling of not responding to everything that is intentional on the part of a parent. So, in a qualitative study that I did with parents of color, I recall one parent sharing how she was driving and ran into the driver alongside of her, ran into road rage, called her racial slur.
Dr. Glover: 33:41
And in the moment she felt herself driving fast up behind that person, like almost tailgating them in response, right? Natural response to being treated unfairly. And then she looked in the rear view mirror and saw her young son sitting in the backseat. And instantly she stopped. She gathered herself and she addressed it and she said, son, what that man did was wrong, but mommy’s not going to respond in kind to that. So while parents are learning, this is difficult work, right? A parent is learning, what do I need to do to respond to this? So, I have my best self moving forward and I am managing the stress of these racist experiences that I’m having and then how do I model for my child how to do the same? I think it’s important to understand the flexibility that we have in our arsenal to both manage it for ourselves and then to explain and train our children to do the same.
Dr. Glover: 34:48
I’m really happy to talk more about that as one of the things that I enjoy talking about on Twitter and talking about with parents in workshops and in group trainings. You’d be surprised the number of parents who feel like they’re not prepared to have this conversation. Even families who have been in the skin that they’re in their whole life, there’ve been a number of experiences that they’ve had that just lead them to feel less confident about delivering this type of training to their child. I’m excited that our work can help strengthen families in this way.
Yeah. That sort of leads me to a question that I had about something that struck me from a book chapter that you wrote about how African American parents (I think it was one’s parent in particular) didn’t know how to talk with her child about racism. That really struck me because I know that white parents have a hard time talking with their children about racism and I think it’s something about the kind of culpability aspect of it that makes it difficult for white parents ‘cause when you’re explaining racism, you’re sort of essentially saying that not just people who look like me, but potentially even me, myself participates in these acts that contribute to systemic racism. I’d sort of assumed that the other side of that narrative was easier to discuss with children because it doesn’t include that element of culpability, but some of the black parents that you interviewed were saying that they found it really hard as well. I’m wondering if there are certain things or ways of saying things about racism that the research indicates promotes better outcomes for children?
Dr. Glover: 36:22
Yes. Well certainly this balance of the culturally uplifting messages alongside racism awareness, that balance we have found consistently over time to be associated with more positive developmental outcomes in terms of engagement in school settings and wellbeing, psychological adjustment. So, I would encourage the balance of those messages. I can also say based on my work, having those messages received in a democratic and loving family context is also associated with children internalizing those messages better and being more open to implementing those messages and over time I think what that does is even if a parent is preparing the child for an experience that hasn’t happened in the context of that democratic and loving family environment, the child feels like there’s a door open to come back in the future with any range, it keeps the line of communication open and allows a parent to adjust their messaging as their better understanding that child’s lived experience. We’ve talked about raising your children in a different context than the one that you’re raised in. So we’re each conducting our own studies, if you will, right? Our children have a better understanding with their lived experience and then are able to adopt our parenting accordingly.
Elisa was there anything else you wanted to ask about that?
Dr. Celis: 38:00
No. That’s a really kind of valuable way of putting it. I think for me, I definitely feel a lot of confusion around these topics. And I think part of it perhaps is that at least when I was growing up, parents were basically (from what I understand parents were basically) told that this colorblindness approach is the way to do things. So even as a person of color, that’s not something we ever talked about, right? So, I think it’s one of those cultural changes that now, I mean I certainly feel that this is something important to address so it’s really helpful to hear this perspective.
Dr. Glover: 38:36
I appreciate you sharing that. I think that there are many families who feel that way regardless of their racial or ethnic background, who are raised in a household with a color blind perspective, who are now reflecting for themselves. Like I hear you reflecting and saying, did that work for me? Will that work for my child? Out of a spirit of love for your child, deciding and then let me evaluate this broad spectrum of strategies that I can use in service to what’s going to help my child to function best independently and be successful in the world in which they live. I encourage as of doing for myself, just these kinds of conversations can be incredibly helpful as parents, as we all walk through these stages of wanting to better understand what can I have in my arsenal and what are some strategies I can use to deliver these messages and how can I build up my own sense of self efficacy in delivering messages that maybe I didn’t receive growing up. I think those are great, great questions to have and to know that yes, you absolutely can improve in feeling more efficacious about delivering these messages and feeling efficacious about when to deliver these messages. Yes, yes and yes.
So, I wonder if we can sort of riff on that a little bit and talk a bit about beauty because I know this is important to Elisa as well. I interviewed Dr. Renee Engeln a while ago on the show on her book, “Beauty Sick” and it’s about how our culture focuses so much attention on beauty that our daughters learned that the most important thing they can be is beautiful and being beautiful means being thin and sexy and sort of implicitly being white. So, I was actually kind of embarrassed afterwards to realize that we didn’t consider this issue in that interview from the perspective of people of nondominant cultures. So, I circled back and I asked Dr. Engeln whether her research based opinion of not telling our daughters they’re beautiful, should hold true for parents of children of nondominant cultures who are not told that they’re beautiful on a regular basis by our culture. So, her research indicates that when parents are saying you are beautiful, they’re actually trying to convey the messages, I love you and I support you. There’s no evidence to show that a mother telling her daughter she’s beautiful actually changes the daughter’s opinion of her own beauty. So it would be better just to tell them, I love you and I support you instead. I wonder if you can speak to this from your perspective, please.
Dr. Glover: 41:10
Well, sure. I think the social context in which we live is very, very different. If when you walk out of your home everything around you affirms you or your group as being in control, in power and really setting the norms. I talk about this in my classes with students and I asked them to evaluate how have we done as a field, how inclusive have we been of diverse perspectives? I have to tell you as a field we rarely get a passing grade. So, I know that the same is true with respect to what a child is internalizing, what they’re exposed to and then what they’re internalizing about their sense of self. And if much of that information is coming from norms that are not aimed at showing their body shape, their hair texture, their skin color in the most positive and loving light, then it’s a parents opportunity.
Dr. Glover: 42:17 It’s a family and a community’s opportunity to change the weight, put on the norms that that child is exposed to and to expose that child to a different set of norms that affirm that their skin color is beautiful and that there are no shape is absolutely lovely and they can embrace every feature of their selves without reservation. I will say that in a study that I completed with a student who has now gone on to do fantastic things, one of the things that we looked at was how often the child reported their parent talking about of race or culturally related message. So how often they report receiving it, and then what reason they attributed receiving that message too. So, do they feel the parent was telling them this information out of love where they’re doing it because they were mean, did they perceive the message was being delivered because they wanted what was best for them?
Dr. Glover: 43:25
And overwhelmingly what we found was that most children, these were middle school age children, perceive that when their parents were talking to them about something pertaining to race, ethnicity, or culture, it was done out of the context of love. That they knew their parents were delivering this message because they love them. So, we have some consistency there, but I do think that there’s a real distinct difference in a message that is explicitly I love you and I support you and a message that is explicitly you have good reason to love and embrace every part of yourself. And here is how we’re going to change the norms that you see to help you recognize how beautiful you are and that you can appreciate those things. Particularly when if you talked about girls, when girls become more body conscious, as they approached the adolescent years, we find many families of color increasing girls exposure to positive images of beauty of themselves that they may not get from mainstream magazines.
Dr. Glover: 44:33
So, they may make sure to order magazines that reflect the beauty of their cultural or ethnic group. They may encourage their families to now be a part of organizations that promote connection with that culture or ethnic groups so that their children can have increased connection with people who look like them and so on and so forth. I can give other examples of how it can be helpful to rev this up, particularly as girls become (children in general) more body conscious. But in response to your question about girls in particular, things that reflect what we call cultural socialization and these cultural pride messages.
Elisa, does that help you to think about ways that you might interact with your daughter in this topic?
Dr. Celis: 45:25
Yes, definitely. I mean it’s something I’m very much aware of in terms of, I guess right now she’s very young, she’s two years old, but in the books that we have that those kind of people who look like her or people who look like a variety of diverse backgrounds are represented. So it’s still the norm or even in the spaces that we interact with. But I guess one thing that I’m still left wondering a little bit when it comes to beauty specifically, I guess I worry that by kind of bringing the beauty aspect, I mean I guess there’s a tension right between yes, people who look like you or people who look not like the dominant culture are beautiful. I mean these are beautiful people, beautiful bodies, amazing examples. But that focus on beauty also often leaves out a whole other side of things that makes people beautiful as a person and their intelligence and their creativity and their physical ability and all these other things. So, I mean I guess I worry that in over emphasizing, yes, these other groups are beautiful.
Dr. Celis: 46:31
I am not making my point very clearly.
Yeah, you are. We understand that. You are making the message too much about beauty, right?
Dr. Celis: 46:39
Dr. Glover: 46:41
Sure. I think what you’re sharing is really important and speaks back to does a parent feel efficacious in delivering these messages and then knowing the timing and have some sort of feedback where they feel confidently that their child has gotten it and then we can move on to something else for a while. Again, the ideas we are in the skin that we are in for a lifetime and we have a finite number of years in which to prepare our children to do the same. So, I am a big advocate of families feeling like they have the resources that they need to do that to the best of their ability and to leave the door open that as their child has any range of experiences that their child feels comfortable with sharing that so that the family has an opportunity to address that specifically.
So Elisa, I wonder, we’re almost out of time here, but I wonder if you have one more burning question that you’d like to ask before we wrap up.
Dr. Celis: 47:51
Sure. Yeah, thanks so much. This has been really a fascinating and very interesting and very useful. I guess maybe to wrap up in all of these messages I think for me one of the fine lines to walk is kind of how to make sure that as we raise our kids, the balance is optimistic, right? They’re optimistic about their future. Yes, they have to be prepared for social injustices or other acts that they will face throughout their life. But how do we make sure that the end goal is positive for them?
Dr. Glover: 48:26
Sure. I’ll leave you with these three take home points if you will, that if nothing else I think it would be important to recognize these three things. The importance of having a balance of messages that as parents we have to deliver some harsh information at times and to not shy away from that information to really make sure we are preparing children for the world they will live in as children of color, including facing stereotypes, facing racism, facing microaggressions, recognizing the subtleties of some of the obstacles that they’ll face that they may not be racially charged. They may manifest in terms of policies, but having these age-appropriate conversations with children, balancing the messages so that they do include a range of messages that are culturally uplifting and help the child to be aware of the race and ethnically related unfair treatment that they are likely to experience.
Dr. Glover: 49:32
Then to deliver those messages in the context of a warm and democratic home environment where the child feels like this is a secure base. Regardless of what I experience beyond the doors of this home, I know in this home this is a secure base and I can come and talk about whatever I’m experiencing, whatever my anxieties are that about what I might experience, whatever stereotypes I may or may not even be aware of that I’m internalizing. And the secure base of home will help that child work through it. So those three things that developmentally and age-appropriate messaging, the balancing the messages and providing those messages in the secure base of warm, democratic home environment, I really think are important for children of color to receive.
Dr. Celis: 50:26
Thanks so much. Yeah, thank you. This has really been incredibly wonderful getting to talk to you and thanks again for providing this opportunity.
You’re welcome. Yeah, it’s been a powerful set of lessons to learn, hasn’t it? So, thanks Dr. Glover for sharing your thoughts with us and for offering to continue the conversation as well. And Dr. Glover’s Twitter handle, again, if you missed it is @CSmallsGlover and I’ll put it in the references for the episode as well. So, thanks Dr. Glover for your time.
Dr. Glover: 50:53
Thank you so much. It’s been a pleasure.
Thank you Elisa for proposing the episode and for being willing to come on and share your questions and your thoughts with us.
Dr. Celis: 51:00
Sure. Thank you so much.
So, all of the references for today’s episode can be found at YourParentingMojo.com/RacialIdentity.
I found this so interesting to listen to as I deal with a similar issue in our family/culture. What springs to mind and I’m trying to implement more and more as my son gets older (currently 18mo) is Janet Lansbury’s idea of ‘sportscasting’. I.e.: “grandma is asking for a hug. It looks like you’re not sure about that. Maybe you could wave or high five instead.” I find that while my son is still so young, that this is a successful and non-confrontational way to communicate to the adult when my child may be uncomfortable.